Rohit, Jasprit and Shardul shine and India win the Oval Test

By Kersi Meher-Homji

What a fluctuating Test at The Oval! What a fascinating series! What magical moments! When one lists all time exciting Test series, the current 2021 swinger between England and India in England should be included.

The first Test at Nottingham last month ended in an exciting draw. India could have won it but for the weather. India convincingly won the second Test at Lord’s by 151 runs. England fought back to level the series one-all at Headingly, Leeds, crushing India by an innings and 76 runs.

Now to the pulsating fourth Test at The Oval which India won by a big margin of 157 runs to lead 2-1. England won the toss and sent India in to bat on a pitch which was ideal for speed and seam bowlers. India was bowled out for 191, skipper Virat Kohli and newcomer Shardul Thakur hitting 50s and speedster Chris Woakes taking four wickets.

I was impressed with Thakur’s batting. Although batting at number 8, he played with elegance and top-scored. His 57 included a six and seven fours, exhibiting stylish cover drives and square cuts.

England also began poorly losing 5 for 62. They were rescued by Ollie Pope (81 runs) and Woakes (50) and totaled 290, a lead of 99. For India fast bowlers Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah captured valuable wickets.

Now the match started fluctuating from highs to lows for both sides. Trailing by 99 runs, Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Lokesh Rahul put on 83 runs. Then the spectators witnessed a magnificent partnership of 153 runs between Rohit Sharma (127 with 14 fours and a six) and Cheteshwar Pujara (61).

New ball was taken when India was on high at 1 for 236 runs, both Rohit and Pujara well-set. Just then Rohit played a reckless hook shot and was dismissed. He was followed by Pujara and then Ajinkya Rahane for a duck. Soon India was 5 for 296, only 197 runs in front with defeat staring in the face.

But cometh the hour and cometh the men; Rishabh Pant (50 runs) and Thakur another classy knock of 60. They added 100 precious runs and India totaled 466, setting England a challenging target of 368 runs to win in four sessions. India appeared to have the match in hand.

But England’s openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed batted solidly and England was 77 without loss at stumps on the fourth day. Any of the three results were possible; a win for India or England or a draw.

The English openers took the score to 100 and it seemed then that England could win. Just then Indian pace bowlers Bumrah, Yadav and Thakur and leg spinner Ravindra Jadeja struck form and England zoomed down from none for 100 to 6 for 147, at one stage losing four wickets for measly six runs.

England was bowled out for 210 runs and India won by 157 runs to lead the series 2-1. This was India’s first Test victory at The Oval in 50 years. For his glorious innings of 127, Rohit Sharma was made Man of the Match.

Said a pleased-as-punch Kohli at the presentation, “The character that the side has shown, to come back from a 100 run deficit showed that we were not down and out. I said at Lord’s as well, I am proud of the character, among the top three bowling performances I have witnessed as India’s captain. It’s relative what you call flat, field wasn’t wet like the first three days, ball got scuffed up nicely, one side heavier and [our bowlers] exploited reverse swing perfectly. We believed as a team that we could get all ten wickets.”

On Bumrah he said, “27 runs off 22 overs on this kind of pitch, a huge effort. When it started reversing he just said ‘give me the ball’!”

He praised Shardul Thakur, “Rohit’s innings was outstanding but the impact performance from the lower-middle order, Shardul’s fifty was the difference, and a counterattack in the second innings. He was outstanding. We never got towards statistics, we know what we focus on, we take a call on what feels best and we believe we can win Tests with it. Whatever the noise on the outset, it doesn’t bother us.”

The fifth and final Test starts on Friday the 10th September at Manchester.

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